The VRE Ticket Scofflaw
Posted on 04.24.12 by Danny Glover @ 9:13 am

Nothing aggravates me more as a commuter than watching other commuters repeatedly break the law, whether they are driving in the high-occupancy vehicle lane of I-66 without enough passengers or riding Virginia Railway Express without paying their fares.

Most of us commuters abide by the rules and pay our way, so I for one love watching the scofflaws get busted for their bad behavior. A case in point — this guy who has taken to riding the same VRE train as me in the evening but who apparently thinks he rides for free:

The first time I saw him, he made a huge scene by pretending to have lost his ticket after he boarded the train. He searched every pocket of his coat, his pants, his shirt and his bag. He lifted the VRE seat where he had been sitting and the empty one across from it. He scoured the floor. He obviously never found the ticket because he never had it, so he was fined.

The man has been on the train several times since but hasn’t been asked to show his VRE ticket. His luck ran out yesterday, and this time he made more of a scene, accusing two different VRE attendants of harassing him. The charge this time: riding with an invalidated ticket.

The rider blamed a faulty machine at Union Station, one that no other riders had mentioned. The VRE attendant who ultimately issued the fine reminded him that he is obligated as a rider to let a VRE attendant know of such a problem before he boards the train.

The cheater’s response, and I quote: “I’m gonna bring a lawyer with me the next time I ride, and I’m gonna sue you all for harassment. … I’ve spent $25,000 on VRE over 10 years’ time.” (At $150 a pop for riding without paying, I’ll bet most of his commuting investment came in the form of fines, assuming he’s even telling the truth about that.)

His stories aren’t believable, and neither are his threats. My guess is that I’ll see this rider on the train soon, without a lawyer and probably without a ticket. I’ll look forward to watching him get fined again.

Filed under: D.C. Commuter Diary and People
Comments: None

Redneck Repair In The D.C. Subway
Posted on 02.28.12 by Danny Glover @ 7:50 pm

When things break in the D.C. subway system, the world’s brightest engineers gather in a room to brainstorm the best solution. And when all their genius ideas fail, they resort to the most reliable redneck repair — duct tape!

This photo is from the Metro Center station, the hub of the entire subway system. I also saw another duct-tape repair in another station.

Filed under: D.C. Commuter Diary and Government and Just For Laughs and Photography and Redneck Humor
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A VRE Train Wreck Avoided
Posted on 09.23.11 by Danny Glover @ 8:17 am

A couple of weeks ago, amid a rain-saturated week, thousands of riders on Virginia Railway Express had to catch cabs or find other rides home when VRE canceled some service during the Thursday evening journey. Many people spent hours stuck in commuting limbo and no doubt were furious.

After seeing this picture, which VRE published in a newsletter for passengers this week, they should be grateful to VRE, as well as the rail owners CSX and Norfolk Southern, for avoiding a tragedy:

But VRE passengers also should be outraged that the rail lines didn’t impose speed restrictions earlier Sept. 8 — and that VRE didn’t pressure the rail lines to do so (at least so far as we riders know). The policies in place for determining when to slow trains for safety reasons and when to let them chug full steam are utterly nonsensical and thus both aggravating and dangerous at the same time.

The proof of this was evident a few weeks before the pictured ballast collapse on the Fredericksburg Line. The aggravation reached a pinnacle Aug. 18, when Norfolk Southern imposed speed restrictions of 15 miles per hour during an evening commute that barely got the tracks wet.

It was a knee-jerk decision driven by the same kind of mentality that prompts schools and local governments in the Washington area to close at the mere chance of snow or ice rather than visible precipitation. Our “turtle train” arrived more than an hour late, long after the few sprinkles had fallen. VRE fielded numerous complaints and shared that customer aggravation with Norfolk Southern.

That aggravation, followed days later by a legitimate earthquake-induced nightmare commute for VRE riders, likely led to Norfolk Southern’s dangerous leniency in imposing flood restrictions during heavy rainfalls the week of Sept. 4.

After catching grief from both VRE customers and VRE as a client, the rail company didn’t want to repeat its mistakes of the recent past, so it erred in the opposite direction. This, too, is the reaction of schools and local governments after they are rightly mocked for closing prematurely.

All of us VRE riders are glad that the long-distance vision of a locomotive engineer avoided tragedy Sept. 8, and we truly appreciate the commitment of both VRE and Norfolk Southern to our safety. We just wish they would exercise better judgment about when to impose speed restrictions based on fears of flash floods that could compromise the tracks.

(Editor’s note: I travel the Manassas Line and actually telecommuted the day before and the day of the track collapse covered in this blog post to avoid delays. I was stunned that the rail companies took so long to impose speed restrictions, tweeted my disgust as I watched the real-time updates on VRE’s Twitter account, and was mortified when I saw the picture of the ballast collapse.)

Filed under: D.C. Commuter Diary and Government and News & Politics and Photography
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The Case Of Metro’s ‘Serial Pooper’
Posted on 07.02.11 by Danny Glover @ 12:11 pm

If you want to see the incompetence of bureaucracy, look no further than the case of the “serial pooper” at a Washington, D.C., Metro station.

The Washington Examiner reports that earlier this week, a Metro passenger complained to a station manager about a pile of human waste on a bridge between the Metro station and property managed by another commuter train, Virginia Railway Express.

Rather than immediately assign one of Metro’s overpaid workers to clean the mess, the station manager made excuses about why it wasn’t Metro’s responsibility. He said the feces were on VRE’s property.

Metro eventually power-washed the bridge while VRE staffers watched, but by then, another pile had appeared, thus leading to the “serial pooper” theory.

So to recap: For four days, a pile of poop sat on a bridge while bureaucrats at two government-funded transportation agencies squabbled over who had to clean it up. Meanwhile, a That’s bureaucracy for you.

Filed under: D.C. Commuter Diary and Government and News & Politics
Comments: 1 Comment

The Mini-Blizzard Of 2011
Posted on 01.30.11 by Danny Glover @ 2:52 pm

I arrived home to a snowy scene after my Wednesday evening commute. For once I was glad to be a VRE passenger because I heard nightmares of eight-hour commutes (and more) on the snow- and ice-slicked roads. Some people stayed in hotels for the night rather than brave the nightmare traffic.

It was a mild storm compared with the blizzards of December 2009 and February 2010 in the Washington, D.C., region but still bad enough to make the next morning’s commute a challenge.

I did not rise to the challenge. Instead, I opted for telecommuting. I could have taken VRE, but it was running on a limited schedule and wasn’t worth the hassle. Plus who wants to walk through piles of unshoveled snow on D.C. sidewalks to get to work?

Filed under: D.C. Commuter Diary and News & Politics and Photography
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The Mechanical Incompetence Of VRE
Posted on 11.24.10 by Danny Glover @ 11:29 am

This was my life yesterday morning, which ended in my wife having to drive 30 miles round trip to rescue me and a stranded friend so we could salvage part of the workday:

Tuesday morning’s commute for riders of Virginia Railway Express went from bad to worse as first an engine failure then a brake malfunction stranded 1,600 commuters 20 miles outside of Washington and caused at least a two-hour delay for Manassas Line riders.

It all started when Train 328 broke down between the Manassas Park and Burke Centre stations around 8 a.m. The following train, No. 330, was coupled to it and its engine began hauling both trains roughly 45 minutes later, according to VRE.

But the aging engine wasn’t powerful enough to push the 14-car load up a hill heading into Burke. So in a scene straight out of the children’s tale, “The Little Engine that Could,” the chained-together trains backed up and “throttled up at a higher speed to get over the ridge,” according to spokesman Mark Roeber.

After pulling into the station around 9 a.m. the coupled train’s warning system signaled a brake failure. Cabs and buses were dispatched to the station to take riders into Washington or to a nearby Metro station, while some passengers opted to wait for the problem to be fixed. Others simply gave up and went home.

I reported the news on my Facebook and Twitter feeds as it happened, including posting the photo above of the scene at Burke Center just after passengers started bailing on VRE en masse.

As the Examiner noted, yesterday’s nightmare was not an isolated incident. Persistent breakdowns and delays, including two nightmares that I avoided last week thanks to VRE email alerts and a loving wife-turned-emergency-responder, have plagued the Manassas Line since summer. I have a loyal readership of Facebook friends and Twitter followers who love reading about the misery in real time.

Filed under: Business and D.C. Commuter Diary and Government and News & Politics
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Leaf Oil Trumps VRE Locomotion
Posted on 10.21.10 by Danny Glover @ 10:16 pm

The U.S. Postal Service has no official creed, but it has this inspiring myth going for it: “Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”

The Virginia Railway Express could use a strong dose of postal pride because today we riders received an uninspiring, excuse-filled message from the CEO about how we can expect bad weather to make our lives miserable. Rain and the flash-flood warnings it occasionally brings are the bane of his existence.

“While we all know it, it is easy to forget what a strong force water can be,” CEO Dale Zehner wrote in his monthly e-mail. “Flash floods can cause instability in the tracks. Or worse, depending on the force of the water, a flash flood can wash out a section of tracks. Because of this, Norfolk Southern’s operating rules require all passenger trains to operate at restricted speed, under 15 mph. For our Manassas Line riders, this can be quite a long commute.”

Tell me about it. I lived that nightmare commute a few times during the summer. The bad news is that I may have to endure it again this fall, this time because of something worse than mere water — leaf oil. Here is Zehner’s explanation:

In autumn if leaves are falling at a time when there are significant amounts of rain and wind, the falling wet leaves end up on the tracks. Wet leaves then stick to the rails like a bad case of static cling. As the trains roll over the leaves, the wheels act as press that extracts the oil from the leaves, which then cause an extremely slick set of tracks. Our long-term riders on the Manassas Line know that when that set of tracks is an uphill grade, delays can be extensive, even worse than flash-flood restrictions.

In other words, we may be living in the 21st century, but leaf oil still trumps locomotion.

I have the sinking feeling that I’ll be getting another batch of unwanted free-ride certificates from VRE over the next few weeks because of extra hours on the train. The question is how many hours I will endure before I decide I’d rather drive to work and fight the highway traffic.

Filed under: Business and D.C. Commuter Diary
Comments: None

VRE Confessional
Posted on 08.20.10 by Danny Glover @ 6:25 pm

Truer words about Virginia Railway Express were never spoken than these by VRE chief executive Dale Zehner in the latest “Train Talk” e-mail distributed yesterday: “This summer has been a difficult one for VRE staff and riders alike.”

In a span of less than two months, I earned seven free-ride certificates because of lengthy VRE delays. Two were the result of train breakdowns ahead of the one I was riding and a third was caused by a power failure on my train. Flash-flood warnings forced VRE to putt along at about five miles an hour during two other commutes. I’ve forgotten what caused the other two delays.

All but two of the delays occurred in the evenings, so they seriously cut into my family time during the week. All told, I lost more than seven hours of my life, basically an extra work day, because VRE couldn’t get its act together.

Before all the troubles started, I was a VRE fan; now I’m a perpetual critic of the system, on this blog, Facebook and my Twitter account (@Danny_Glover). I hope Zehner was serious when he wrote this:

Don’t think for a second that I take your loyalty for granted, because I don’t. No one at VRE does. You are the driving force for what we do here at VRE. I pledge to you that VRE is determined to make improvements, earn back your trust in us to get you to work and home, safely and on-time.

VRE already has lost my loyalty — the only reason I’m still riding is because I’d lose at least twice as many hours of my life driving into Washington or to the Metro every day — and it definitely will have to earn my trust again.

Filed under: Business and D.C. Commuter Diary and People
Comments: None

Escalating Metro Incompetence
Posted on 08.19.10 by Danny Glover @ 7:07 pm

I went nearly two blessed years without having commute regularly into Washington from our home in Northern Virginia, so I had forgotten how incompetent the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority is at running a functional and efficient Metro system. WMATA has worked overtime to remind me since in the four months since my return to the commuting life.

I spend most of my commute on Virginia Railway Express — that’s another whiny story — but I do take a brief trips on Metro each day, from L’Enfant Plaza to Metro Center and back. I exit Metro Center at G and 12 streets. The escalators there have worked maybe 15 percent of the time since I joined the David All Group.

Today I noticed the chicken-scratched sign above. Metro’s incompetence even extends to signage. What, you raise our fares twice this summer but still can’t afford a good sign?

Sadly, the failures of our capital city’s public transportation are escalating (pun intended). Here’s a telling nugget from a May column in the Washington Examiner:

[A] year later, after millions of dollars have been funneled to WMATA and customers subjected to fare hikes, has service improved? On April 29 last year when I last wrote on these pages about WMATA there were fifty three escalators outages, and nine unexpected service disruptions.

One year later, there were 63 escalator outages and 14 disruptions. Not only have service conditions not improved with increased government support, they have gotten worse!

All the more reason to appreciate the all-too-brief respite I had as a telecommuter.

Filed under: D.C. Commuter Diary and Government
Comments: None

The Frustrations Of VRE
Posted on 06.28.10 by Danny Glover @ 10:02 pm

I want to love Virginia Railway Express, I really do. But VRE is making it tough these days.

I was excited back in April when I accepted a job at a firm whose office location is convenient enough to make VRE a cost-effective commuting option. The VRE commute also saves me time — 1-1/2 hours one way vs. more than two by car — and stress. I’d rather read, play iPhone games or sleep all the way into Washington than idle behind the wheel in traffic.

For the most part, I have enjoyed the VRE commute the last two months. One morning last week, I tweeted about how cool it was to see a deer and wild turkeys in the clearings along the tracks.

But everything started going wrong that very day. A train breakdown commute doubled my evening commute, and we experienced delays the next two mornings and evenings. Then tonight, VRE canceled the train I take home in the evening without giving us passengers an advance warning during the morning.

I either faced the option of waiting another hour for the next train or getting back on the Metro system, paying higher fares and asking my wife to come get me at the last stop on the Orange Line. So VRE cost me money to ride a public transportation system I hate, and inconvenienced my wife, our kids and me. That’s no way to win the loyalty of customers.

I’ll keep taking VRE because it’s still my best commuting option, but I won’t be singing the agency’s praises in my tweets or on Facebook any more.

Filed under: D.C. Commuter Diary and Travel
Comments: 3 Comments

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